I wanted to love Scrabble. I really did. But Electronic Arts managed to release a product which seems to have new and amazing flaws as I attempt to play it for this review-- and I've played it often. The game exists as "downloadable content" for the free 250 MB Xbox 360 Live Arcade Hasbro Family Game Night application. Basically, it's like this: you can download a complete suite of Hasbro board games absolutely free, but it's going to cost you $10 a pop to play any of them. It's like downloading an entire Namco Museum collection for free, but each game is going to cost you.
$10 (800 MS points)
As a collection of games, Hasbro Family Game Night's interface is fairly clever-- you're in an apartment and you pull a game out of the wall and it goes over to a table, where it is unpacked and you play it. As you play, you can decorate your room with mugs and chairs and other knickknacks you earn from playing the various games. There's also free downloadable rooms to mix things up a bit, but we didn't explore the add-ons beyond the actual games. The in-game Scrabble board is based on the current real-world Diamond Edition of the game, which you can buy for about $50. The digital equivalent is a virtual bargain at just $10.
While playing, the game is pretty good about saying "press this button to make this happen" so you really don't have an excuse for having pushed the wrong button to select a tile or skip your turn. Dexterity is largely unessential for games of this nature, so as long as your hands work it's fairly simple to do whatever it is you want to do-- the directions are on the screen at almost all times. It's intuitive and simple-- what more can you ask for?
I played several games against a local opponent and found the experience to be pretty great because I don't have to worry about looking up words, doing math, or cleaning up when I got angry and knocked over the board. Unfortunately, you can see the other players' pieces during their turns. It's still plenty of fun, because honestly, it's not like you can steal their pieces. (Or so I've noticed.) It's a little bizarre because the game accepts some things I wouldn't have assumed to be legit words, such as "AA," "Hos", and "Gax." I don't know what the hell "gax" means, but the game's built-in dictionary was cool with it and not "LAN." That's democracy for you, but most likely fair by the dictionary that the game uses.
It's Scrabble-- and as such it plays out like it's supposed to. Put down the tiles, get a bunch of points, and lose to your significant other who is a freaking expert at word games. (But you'll have your revenge when it's time to play a fighting game.)
Various bonus modes include "hot tiles" which are worth more points if used quickly after drawing them, and "tournament" adds a time limit so people don't spend all day deciding if they should go with "ZAP" or "ADZ." I found these added to the fun (and my chances of winning), but my Scrabble expert associate did not enjoy them all that much.
My first attempt to play the game online gave me the letters for "BEATNIK" on my very first turn, and I went first-- because of a server glitch, the game ended two rounds in and I didn't get the appropriate achievement(s). I think that sums up the frustration you're likely to experience when playing this game.
From my experiences, you are very unlikely to have a good online experience due to the Electronic Arts servers, which frequently drop games or flat-out refuse to let you connect to them after waiting 5-10 minutes. (Yes, I timed it to check.) Just to be sure it wasn't my hardware, I went online and tried several other games in a versus match, and played them all without a hitch. The problems seem to vary by night, but the one consistent experience I've had with this game is that it doesn't work properly online, or in some cases off. You can check the official Xbox forums for other stories concerning the problems with the game.
But don't take my word for it-- ask around. If this issue has been resolved, you might be missing out on a wonderful experience. Online play really does change on games, so be sure to see what the story is before making a purchase.
This game is buggy. No, really-- it's a mess, and basically it's entirely the fault of the EA servers. Rather than go through whatever standard Xbox network all the other games go through, the Hasbro games require you to connect to an EA server which, it turns out, is riddled with problems that complicate both local and online play of this and the other games of the package. At press time, we're still trying to communicate with EA to figure out what is going on but I cannot in good faith tell you to buy these games.
For example, I've only been able to get one Scrabble match completed online, and that was in the morning on a day I went into the office late. Every weekend or evening I attempt to connect to the EA servers, there are one of two problems: either the game connects and drops me mid-match, or it won't even let me connect to the EA server at all. Either way, I haven't been able to complete a single evening match of Scrabble, and being someone who works, that's pretty much my only time to play it.
To further complicate things, the game has a bug which renders local play impossible. If for any reason you're logged in to Xbox Live and can't connect to the EA server, it won't let you play the full games you purchased locally. If you disconnect from the Xbox Live server and remain logged in, they work fine as local games, but then you aren't connected to the big lovely network for messaging, achievement logging, and what have you.
I don't consider these problems to be minor, and it's really unfortunate that some of the strongest board games of all time are being marred by issues which aren't a problem on any of the dozens of other games I've tried on the console. I mean, there's nothing preventing me from playing Mega Man 9 whenever I feel like-- why would EA allow a game to be released which prevents your playing it while logged in to Xbox Live?
Is It Worth It?
No. Or at least, not until whatever server issues are resolved. I had to rewrite this review a few times to incorporate the various problems I've been having. I contacted a few people at the PR company and have tried doing some research online, and at this time I have to say that the Xbox 360 version of Hasbro Family Game Night is experiencing difficulties which render it unplayable.
It's also worth noting that the Playstation 2 and Wii versions of Hasbro Family Game Night have an SRP of about $39.99 and include everything but Scrabble. I've seen the PS2 version at Target stores for as little as $13.98. At this time, I would suggest trying those versions instead of the Xbox 360 one because at least to my knowledge, they don't rely on EA's horrible servers to play them.
I'm really disappointed, because I wanted to play this game and like it, and a bug in the game prevents me from playing it without jumping through hoops. That's just insane, and what's worse is there are very few mainstream reviews of this game and none of them seem to have been written based on real-world testing experiences.
April 1, 2009